Another Environmentalist for Nuclear Energy


  1. One thing which the pessimist you quote didn’t mention of course is that the kind of low-energy economy which he/she views as inevitable would not be physically capable of supporting the present world’s population even if everyone learned skills in farming etc.

    I sometimes fantasize about having a mass show trial of people of the kind you describe (followed by their execution), in which the importance of things like the Haber-Bosch process would be brought home to the public.

    No quarter for die-off advocates!

    1. From Wiki, “It is estimated that half of the protein within human beings globally is made of nitrogen that was originally fixed by this [Haber–Bosch] process”.

      Don’t execute them – it would be more reasonable just to make them give back half their protein until they professed their gratitude for technology, inventors, and certain advanced industrial processes.

        1. The loss of even a pound of protein could be a problem:

          “These griefs and losses have so bated me, that I shall hardly spare a pound of flesh to-morrow to my bloody creditor. ”

          Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare.

  2. It is typical of these enthusiasts of the apocolyptic that they imagine somehow the ‘salt o’ the earth’ types will inherit the earth. It does not often seem to occur to them that the usual fate of a non-industrial agrarian society is an authoritarian simplified power structure with the proud ‘owners’ of good farmland reduced to little more than slaves, or indeed enslaved openly and outright. I recall debating such a fellow on BNC, who fully expected to be an aristocrat in the coming post-collapse world by virtue of his present ownership of some productive agticultural land. I tried to get him to understand what the attitude of the government in an emergency situation preceding such a collapse would likely be toward people such as himself, but to no avail.

    1. The mindset you describe isn’t so different in its fundamentals with that of Ayn Rand fanboys who see no problems with rapacious plutocracy because they are certain that they personally would get to be among the plutocrats…

      1. That may be true of a certain breed of Randroid, but the situation laid out in Atlas Shrugged was a bit more nuanced than that. There was indeed a rapaciuos plutocracy described therein, but it was part of the bad guys.

        1. It was the “certain breed of Randroids” which I was referring to.

          As far as that poster on BNC goes, I’d remind him that owning good agricultural land makes him a “kulak”. We all know what Stalin did to the kulaks in order to get more food to feed the cities of the Soviet Union.

  3. The “Après moi le deluge,” type gives me a pain where I can’t scratch in public. They are so self-centered that they seem to hate the idea that things will go on without them. Running a close second are those that are still suffering under the remnants of Calvinist thought that sees sin in comfort and satisfaction and believe that somehow we are going to have to pay for these sins.

  4. I see no problem on our capacity of creating all the energy humanity needs with fission products.

    Where I see a problem though is in the “monopoly/gambling” economy we are now witnessing a close to collapse point.

    We cannot physically sustain the ongoing bailout of this failed system by printing money and then asking honest working people to pay the bill.

    This is the collapse I am afraid is in front of us, unless we take drastic measures to regulated those gamblers taking the real, physical economy with it to the grave.

    Solutions are there. We used them before. Think of FDR and Glass Steagle. We need to take back control.

    1. Here in Britain there seems to be a plan to segregate high-street banking from investment banking (which is essentially the same thing that Glass-Steagall did IIRC).

      Incidentally, I wouldn’t bail out banks at all — I’d let them collapse, and if necessary use government money to bail out their creditors outside the financial sector (ie individuals and non-financial corporations).

    2. @Simon – interestingly enough the bailouts and monopoly gambling that you describe are EXACTLY the behavior that Ayn Rand warned us about in Atlas Shrugged.

      Some of the evil villains in that story included people like James Taggert of Taggert Transcontinental who sought government protection from competition for his rail lines and Wesley Mouch, a lobbyist who enters the revolving door of government service. Scientists who willingly subverted their science in order to obtain favorable government treatment also came in for condemnation.

      The heroes were people who actually made useful things, produced useful products and invented useful objects. They were also people who were exceptional short order cooks, railroad engineers, and others who were simply competent at their jobs.

      Rand gets a bad name because many do not bother to read the book; they only read what others have written ABOUT the book.

        1. George, that has got to be the most ridiculous hack attack article against Rand I’ve ever seen. I’m frankly suprised you would associate yourself with such nonsense. Rand has attackworthy issues, but there’s no need for this kind of garbage.

  5. “However, the cost of the waste should be added to the cost of the fuel, with the proceeds being distributed evenly to everyone who has a set of lungs.”

    I’ve given some thought over the years, to whether a carbon tax would be a good idea, and if so, what do we use the money for? Essentially, there’s not much point for a carbon tax, unless the carbon tax is going to mitigate the damage from burning the fossil fuels.

    Here’s the way I see it: you suggest giving the money equally to everyone. In that case, we are essentially “paying ourselves”, and the tax is pointless – I buy more expensive electricity, so the electric company can pay a tax to the taxman, which gives it to the government, to give back to me. All that does is lose money to pay wages for the accountants, lawyers, taxmen, and government bureaucrats that sustain the whole endeavor.

    Here’s my fundamental observation: the ‘damage’ from burning fossil fuels does not affect everyone equally, so we should not pay out the tax to everyone equally. Some people will not get lung damage from the particulates put out by coal plants, or suffer damage from the ash ponds losing their toxic waste into the local environment when they fail. Not everyone’s house will be flooded, or destroyed by hurricane as a result of climate change.

    So, the carbon tax, if we implemented one, should directly go to paying additional government expense burdens which result from the burning of the fossil fuels – medical bills for people suffering health problems as a result of exposure to the waste products of the fossil fuel plants (you might not be able to actually pick out individuals and say “the cause of their problem is from the coal plant” – I’m not sure, but it might be more of a statistical thing, so there is room for debate about how that should be split up, but the general idea I think is valid). Additional FEMA funding to deal with floods, hurricanes, etc. Perhaps large public works infrastructure projects directly aimed at mitigating weather/flood damage, coastal flooding from rising sea levels (perhaps we need to start building dikes/levees along low coastlands, similar to the Dutch). Assisting home/property owners who’ve suffered property damage either as a direct result (e.g. if a fly ash pond breaches, filling a local river with ash, then that ash floods over into property along the river’s flood plane), or indirect result (e.g. home flooded because of a hurricane, which are more frequent because of climate change).

    That sort of thing – where we can basically show that the tax is really being used for the actual costs incurred by the harmful activity of burning fossil fuel.

    1. Jeff,

      I agree. Hence the carbon tax would be used to cover all the ‘economic externalities’ caused by burning fossil fuels.

    2. @Jeff S – your analysis neglects the fact that there is a vast difference in the amount of stuff each one of us dumps. The people who use far less than their share of the earth’s atmosphere will receive a dividend; those who use more than their share will have to pay their neighbors for the use of their share of the space.

      The point is to make the cost of the activity be fully reflected in the cost of the product.

      Large emitters would thus have an incentive to figure out ways to reduce their emissions instead of getting a free ride on the backs of everyone else.

      My proposal is not for a “tax” but for a fee that the government can more efficiently collect for the property owners.

      1. @Rod, I don’t disagree, with what you are saying.

        There’s two “dimensions” to this if you will, as far as I can tell. The end-user “consumer” dimension, and the utility/producer side of things.

        From the consumer side, if I use a lot less power than my neighbor, then I will pay a lot less tax, simply because I use less power. Whether I “source” my power from a fossil fuel plant or a nuclear plant, however, is largely irrelevant, because if the cost of coal power goes up, there are so few nuclear plants right now that there won’t be any pressure on nuclear plant operators to keep prices low – they just have to be a *little bit cheaper* than the coal power, so I as a consumer end up paying about the same price.

        However, I suppose that for the segment of society that consumes a lot more power, they will pay a lot more tax, but if the collected funds were divided evenly across the whole population, the greater-than-average energy consumers would not get back as much as they payed out in tax, while the less-than-average energy consumers would get back *more* than they payed out. Those consumers who buy about the average amount of power, will get back about as much as they pay out in tax.

        But, I still think that as far as disposition (that is, what do we do with that tax), it would be far more fair to pay out the collected taxes to those who are disproportionately adversely affected/harmed by the pollution. Not everyone who lives near a coal plant will get asthma, but the ones who *do* are the ones harmed, not the ones who *don’t*.

        Use the tax to compensate people/companies who are harmed, not *everyone*, as not *everyone* is *actually* harmed by the pollution.

        1. I think you’re confusing the issue of greenhouse gases with the issue of noxious air pollution here.

        2. @Jeff S:

          In an earlier comment, one of the objections that you raised to the idea of a tax on all fuels with an equal distribution to every person was the following:

          “All that does is lose money to pay wages for the accountants, lawyers, taxmen, and government bureaucrats that sustain the whole endeavor.”

          I believe that it would be far more contentious, complicated and legalistic to try to identify “the victims” and only pay them. Proving that the main cause of any individual calamity is emission from a combustion system would be nearly impossible, but since there would be a large pool of money involved there would be a lot of sharks attracted to the endeavor. A small portion of the dollars would go to the people who are affected.

          Even if the only damage done is nuisance, I think that the notion of all of us getting paid because someone else needs to use our atmospheric property as a dumping ground has some appeal.

      2. @George,

        No, I’m not confusing them. I’m including both of them. I’m including ALL waste-related problem costs. So, there’s 1) GHG emissions, 2) Fly Ash ponds (which can become a big mess – just ask Tennessee), 3) Particulate and noxious gas emissions (I believe a lot of this 3rd category is being cleaned up with newer plants, but I think there are still plants putting out particulates and gasses like SOx and NOx?)

        In any case, the idea is that *every* external costs the plants cause, the power from those plants should be taxed for, and the money used to pay for those external costs.

        1. Regarding the Kingston Ash Spill in Tennessee, the cost of those externalities are being fully accounted for, and have had a/an (somewhat small, but greater than zero) effect on TVA’s rates.

        2. The fly ash clean up from Kingston cost TVA right around $2 Billion. This cost does not include conversion to dry ash storage at their other operating coal plants or required engineering improvements to existing ponds.

          To put the cost in perspective, TVA’s 2010 gross operating revenue was $10.8 billion with fuel costs of $2.6 billion. TVA was able to avoid near term rate increases by funding through debt. They jumped from $22 billion of debt in 2009 to $28 billion in 2010. TVA has a legal debt limit of $30 billion. If they are going to be able to fund any capital projects they have no choice but to significantly increase their rates. Keep in mind TVA is retiring 2,700 MW of coal plants finishing the construction of Watts Bar Unit 2 and commencing construction Bellefonte Unit 1 and potentially later Unit 2. That $2 billion hit from the Kingston spill was a significant event for TVA. Plus all of the required upgrades to their remaining operational coal plants in order to meet EPA regulations for mercury, particulate and ozone. (These are now up in the air.)

          The challenging part is the RCRA regulation rules that resulted after Kingston forced an internalization of the costs of waste. Thus fly ash is no longer a cost externality.

        3. Cal, your last sentence is definitely exactly what I was bringing up.

          If I remember correctly, during the financial portion of TVA’s August board meeting, they stated that their present “statutory” debt is around $24 Billion of the $30 Billion limit, so I think they are maintaining a decent amount of flexibility there (in spite of the fact that the limit hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation since it was instituted).

          I’m not sure what the actual cost of the Kingston clean-up is, but I was thinking it was closer to “only” $1 Billion and that the cost of upgrading their wet ash storage to dry storage at all of their other facilities is going to end up being around $2 Billion. These costs can be spread over multiple years to minimize rate impacts and debt increases.

          Also, I (personal opinion here) strongly, strongly doubt that Bellefonte Unit 2 will be completed, largely because I have faith that the B&W mPower development will be relatively successful and will present a better option for TVA for needed nuclear capacity additions in the 2020-2024 timeframe than completing Bellefonte Unit 2. I should probably send an email to some people already working on Unit 1 find out whether they’ve been given any directives regarding making future design completion of Unit 2 any easier/harder or whether that is any consideration at all during the completion of Unit 1.

        4. Joel thank you for fact checking me on that. I went off of old information. When I worked at Sequoyah, we had several corporate officers come down and talk to us about the Kingston clean-up. That was where I got the dollar figure from and that was about a year and a half ago.

          quick search showed 1.2 billion (Chattanooga Times Free Press June 2010) The numbers I pulled for debt were from the 2010 annual report and is a little dated…

          I hope mPower makes it. It will be able to achieve much deeper market penetration than large monolithic reactors, mainly due to financing.

          I ran some numbers on Bellefonte 1 and 2. I pulled the estimated costs for completion from wikipedia in April of this year ($2.39B and $3.38B respectively BLN1 is now somewhere around $4.2B). Ratioing them would put BLN 2 now around $5.8B. The old numbers showed that those two reactors have a lower levelized cost of electricity than just the fuel and O&M of a similarly sized coal facility. And that is more inexpensive than a new construction mPower. With more updated numbers, BLN2 is closer to the cost of mPower.

        5. Regarding Bellefonte Unit 2, here’s a quote from a friend working on the Unit 1 design effort: “I think I can sum it up as we are to treat Unit 2 as an obstacle to be avoided but not something to neglect/abuse either.”

          The power increments of adding mPower units could also fit future demand growth in already-developed areas much, much better than adding a GW-scale plant, considering how saturated developed areas are in terms of appliances and HVAC units.

        6. Joel,
          I’m still reading this stuff. As I am a bit “wonky” I read through the report to see if there were any assumptions that were made but not stated. There was a big one. They measured the value of each service as the direct sale of the good or product and that there is no other value added. This is too narrow. Below is my post on the link you gave:

          “I read through the report there was one key assumption that was not stated for each of these. They counted the value of each item through the direct sale of the good/product as the value added. This is only part of the picture. The other part is in the contribution to GDP production. I am going to focus on electricity generation.

          Robert Ayers and Benjamin Warr illustrated in their recent book, “The Economic Growth Engine: How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity” how exergy (fancy thermodynamic word for useful work) is a previously unknown degree of freedom in the economy. Now the economy has three degrees of freedom: capital, labor, and exergy.

          They showed conclusively that without our massive exergy input into the economy, we would not have seen the growth that we have over the past century. Coal accounts for about 20% of the nations primary energy input (source LLNL 2009 Energy graph). It is roughly 3/2 as efficient as oil production so it has a higher contribution to the overall exergy input into the economy (ICE’s ~20% efficient coal plants ~35%).

          Figure 6.4 in Ayers-Warr shows the Solow residual or as it is also commonly known the Technological Progress Function accounting for 80% of GDP. In the next chapter they show how exergy accounts for 99.8% of the TPF.

          Coal’s overall contribution to the US economy is 16% of GDP. From BEA the US economy was $10.4 trillion. Thus coal alone contributed $1.72 trillion directly to Gross GDP in 2002. The GED sited for all sectors in the paper was $184 billion, with utilities coming in at $62.6 billion. This is a significant oversight on their part.

          A good economist will argue that coal is “fungible” (replaceable) with other generation sources. It is to some extent. It costs money to replace the plants. It also costs money (through lost opportunity costs of premature replacement). So technically, yes they are replaceable. In practicality over the next several decades they may be fully replaceable, they are not today or within the next decade. In other words, coal added $1.72 trillion to the economy and it cannot be replaced without sacrificing GDP (standard of living). “

        7. The NAS put our a report in 2009 called, “Hidden Costs of Energy:Unpriced”
          Below is a link to google books. The numbers in the NAS paper are consistent with the ones in the more recent paper. I read through the references of the newer paper and the NAS study was not sited…


    3. Jeff – The idea that you discuss comes from James Hansen, who has probably been the most important promoter of the idea.

      Feel free to call me cynical (and yes, I am cynical), but in my opinion the entire scheme has been designed more for its selling points than for reasons related to any well-thought-out, coherent plan to reduce emissions or mitigate their effects. I don’t know whether Hansen has cynically concocted this scheme himself or (more likely) is just idealistically promoting a scheme that he got from someone else. That doesn’t matter.

      Like all sin taxes, the supposed premise is to eradicate the evil of the sin, but the real selling point is to get someone else to pay for something that you use. Thus, sin taxes on cigarettes are wildly popular, but the tax revenue that is collected is almost never used on anything that will pay for the health damage that they cause. Instead, these taxes are often promoted to pay for schools or to reduce property taxes. In other words, the average citizen sees the benefits, and best of all, it’s only the “dirty smokers” who have to pay for them. It’s like free money!

      And speaking of free money, the “carbon tax” scheme includes just that: everybody will get a check from the government. Who pays for this? Why not me, but the “rich, dirty utilities” who are still burning fossil fuels. Instead of spending money to mitigate the effects of climate change, Hanson’s scheme involves a huge wealth-redistribution scheme, and thus, is guaranteed to be popular with a certain portion of the left-leaning crowd that favor such wealth redistribution.

      But Hanson’s particular plan goes beyond that. Notice that the free money is to be paid out equally to each person, but within a family, it is limited to just four people (i.e., father, mother, and only two children). Any child beyond the first two doesn’t get any money, so this scheme is also designed to appeal to the Malthusian folks who dwell too much on population control. The message that my cynical mind takes away from this is that, apparently, some people have less value (in terms of government handouts) than others based on how many siblings he or she has. Ironically, the same people who favor this type of arrangement are often the first to claim (hypocritically) that they promote egalitarian ideals.

      So here we see the selling points and how they have been targeted to attract the support of people with a particular type of thinking. What is almost always missing, however, is the downside of such a scheme. With most sin taxes, the promoters never consider the perverse incentives that they provide.

      The “free money” that is promised by such a carbon-tax scheme comes with a price. It keeps coming only if utilities continue to emit carbon, right? Thus, under such a scheme, that coal plant in somebody else’s backyard suddenly has value to you. If you shut down that coal plant, the money that you receive will decrease. Now, why should you campaign to replace that plant when it is not in your best self interest?

      Furthermore, why should you want to replace a cheap coal plant with more expensive electricity such as wind, solar, or even nuclear? Even if the price of electricity from the coal plant with the tax is the same as the price of electricity from a nuclear plant used to replace it, your electricity prices haven’t changed, but by switching from coal to nuclear you’ve cut your “free money” from the government.

      This is why I think that James Hansen’s scheme, while popular with certain ideological groups, is completely bonkers.

      1. Brian – Notice that I have not written a word about limiting the dividend payments to a particular number of children. In my view, every human is valuable and parents who choose to have more than two children and raise them to be contributing members of society should be celebrated for the hard job that they have chosen to do.

        I am well aware of the stories of the abuses of the system, but my experience in the real world tells me that there is a reason those stories make the “news”; they are the exception rather than the rule. Raising children is difficult, expensive, time consuming and rewarding – like most efforts worth doing.

        Secondly, I am not trying to be “cute” by calling the dividend a fee vice a tax. It is simply an effort to put a price on each part of the required “system” for obtaining energy from combustion. You need the fuel, which everyone has gotten used to paying for. However, you also need the O2 from the air and you need a place to dump the waste products. For the past 150+ years, the fossil fuel industry has been able to sell a partial solution – their customers have been taking the rest of the necessary components for free.

        The dividend is no different in concept than the oil dividends that Alaska residents receive.

        Finally, I am certain that nuclear fission, once being done at scale and with some consistent building programs where learning curves are aggressively pursued, will result in far cheaper energy than we have today.

        As an oil guy once reminded his compatriots in OPEC – the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones. It ended because we developed better, less expensive and labor intensive construction materials. Some people still used stones in construction, but only by choice instead of by necessity. When the full cost of combustion is made apparent, there will be no need for any mandates or subsidies to encourage decision makers to invest in atomic fission.

        1. Let’s play the history reel and go back to New York city. The horse manure was getting a humongous issue a century ago and it was solved by technology.

          Fossil fuel and cars came to the rescue.

          So I am optimistic that in a not too distant future our wheels will still be round but powered by something new.

        2. Rod – I thought that I was clear: I was critiquing Hansen’s plan.

          The dividend is no different in concept than the oil dividends that Alaska residents receive.

          That’s an excellent example that explains one of the points that I was trying to make. How many Alaskans are trying really hard to shutdown oil production in the state?

        3. @Brian – you were specific about critiquing Hansen’s plan, but you did it by telling Jeff that the plan he was talking about came from Hansen. However, Jeff’s comment was a response to my variation of the plan included in the original post that started this conversation. Here is the paragraph:

          However, the cost of the waste should be added to the cost of the fuel, with the proceeds being distributed evenly to everyone who has a set of lungs. One of the founding principles in the US is that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Since air is absolutely required for life, I think that principle bequeaths every one of us an equal share of the air. If people are going to use our share as a dumping ground, they should pay for the amount that they dump.

          That is why I responded to your critique.

          One objection that you raised in that critique was that the existence of the dividend might cause people to stop working very hard to shut down the fossil fuel industry. As you put it:

          Thus, under such a scheme, that coal plant in somebody else’s backyard suddenly has value to you. If you shut down that coal plant, the money that you receive will decrease. Now, why should you campaign to replace that plant when it is not in your best self interest?

          Furthermore, why should you want to replace a cheap coal plant with more expensive electricity such as wind, solar, or even nuclear? Even if the price of electricity from the coal plant with the tax is the same as the price of electricity from a nuclear plant used to replace it, your electricity prices haven’t changed, but by switching from coal to nuclear you’ve cut your “free money” from the government.

          Exactly! I am not ideologically opposed to the use of fossil fuel. I think its overall effect on human society has been hugely positive. It has given us the energy we needed to accomplish great things and live comfortably. Its use has turned human beings from a vast unwashed herd of beings living not much better lives than most other animals into a species that creates art, builds beautiful cities, grows amazing gardens, and establishes incredible universities and libraries to enable further development. (Sure, there was a little of that creativity going on before we found fossil fuel, but it was mostly limited to people who managed, often through the force of firearms or whips, to obtain rights to the output of thousands of other people. Putting coal and oil to work has spread that capability to create to the masses.)

          Fighting the existence of the local coal plant is counter productive. One purpose of the fee and dividend system is to help people recognize that putting up with the plant has at least some benefits. My plan would include a certain amount of effort into widely sharing the knowledge that the source of the dividend is NOT “the government” and NOT an individual politician that should be reelected because he “brought home the bacon.”

          The source of that dividend is the creative enterprise of producing electricity, which happens to have some negative effects that the owner is paying to alleviate. It is not dissimilar from the property taxes that large enterprises should pay to cover the costs of their negative impacts on roads, demands on public services, burden on the educational system, etc. People who live in places where the big companies actually do pay their share LIKE having those big companies around and do not fight their expansion.

          Encouraging coal plants to be cleaner by ensuring that owners pay the full cost of operating is not counter productive. Encouraging the replacement of a facility that turns raw material into valuable, creation-enabling electricity with something more reliable and less damaging is an even more positive effect.

          I disagree with your decision to lump nuclear fission energy into the “more expensive than coal” category. It is a technology that needs a million times less material input and produces a lot less need for waste disposal. It is, at a fundamental process level, “easier” than burning coal and should thus be cheaper than burning coal.

          A system that ensures that coal plant owners realize that they must pay for atmospheric waste disposal space instead of assuming that they can continue to get it for free ensures that they add the necessary numbers and formulas to their economic models.

          Fission might not win every sales opportunity, but it will be fighting for market share on a playing field that is more level. The field is more level because it ensures that both the cost and the benefits of producing electricity are shared somewhat equitably between people with “capital” and people who are born with atmospheric property rights simply because they are human beings.

        4. I have done some pretty extensive modeling on energy sector costs of production. Here are some general findings.
          1. Subsidies for power generation act to externalize the costs associated with that generation source. Take for example a Production Tax Credit or Investment Tax Credit. The consumer is not paying for the full cost of the MW generated by that source. The costs are distributed to everyone in the economy.
          2. Nuclear Power is the only source of power generation where an attempt has even partially been made to internalize all costs. Some would argue the levels as being either inadequate or too much, I tend to think they are about right. Spent fuel disposal fee was able to fully fund the civilian (non DOE) portion of Yucca Mt. The tax payers are on the hook for the government waste. Price Anderson has about a 22 Billion kiddy for an accident. I think we will see the actual damages due to Fukushima coming in somewhere on that order of magnitude. Fukushima was a bad day.
          3. Using NAS cost externality on electricity generation and eliminating all subsidies (except depreciation which is common to all capital investment) nuclear is the most inexpensive form of power generation. Natural gas is dependent on the price of gas and once the price volatility is incorporated into the analysis it is no longer cost effective.
          4. Large nuclear plants are prohibitive due mainly to access to credit markets and the availability of capital for construction. Without loan guarantees the utility is required to fund a project with 55% of owners capital. The max debt can only be 45% due to debt repayment in the event of default. This means that only the largest and most liquid utilities can afford construction of a monolithic reactor. Loan guarantees are more problematic as we are seeing with Solyndra. If one contrasts the economic health of Southern Company (Vogtle 3&4) with Solyndra they are night and day different, and Southern had more restrictive subsidy fees and interest rates which more accurately state the risk to the tax payer. Solyndra is shaping up to be a James Taggart special.

          The problem with all of this keeps going back to central issues about the role of government, and is well beyond what this blog is about.

          Like Rod, I too served in submarines. I spent some time on my first ship in the Arabian Gulf and Arabian Sea. I have also studied the countries in the Mid-East. The control that they exert over the kill switch to the global economy is massive. It is a 25 mile wide straight that separates the world from 30% of its oil supply. If you do not believe the volume of oil shipping try being the invisible man standing on an interstate and dodge the semi trucks for a few months. Eventually one is going to hit you (USS Newport News).

          Oil is 90% of transportation fuel used in the world. Our Just-In-Time manufacturing and distribution economy is dependent on the access to inexpensive oil. Shut down oil, shut down the entire economy.

          Daniel talked about how fossil fuels came to the rescue in New York. Here is how nuclear can come to the rescue for the nation. Advanced Reactors (~500°C) can be used to liquify coal (with some help). They can also be used to supply the process heat for nitrogen fixation (directly). We produce enough coal today to make our domestic economy resistant to global disruptions in oil supply. We just need to stop burning coal to make electricity…

  6. The cost of trying to maintain our present situation is not simply measured in money amounts but human suffering when there should be only adjestments in life style. Climate change will place demands upon us all and sadly be fatal for some. There will be scant time to be comfortable when the snow is blowing outside and food is in short supply. Winter is coming with increased energy demand and nuclear power is our best chance to survive EQ’s and Floods and God only knows what else.

    1. We are underestimating human ingenuity in times of crisis.

      Nuclear is here in extra large size. Soon SMRs will be the great equalizer that nuclear needed (why we don’t have them today on a commercial basis today is totally beyond me)

      For climate change, geo engineering techniques are already possible with sulfur dioxide to fight global warming. As for acidification of oceans, I do not think a solution exists. But let’s give science a chance.

    2. I was wrong. Some geo engineering techniques, using limestone, are being tested to fight ocean acidification.

      We have to agree however that these geo engineering solutions have implementation challenges.

  7. This is where transition towns and intentional communities may prove to be the ideals of the future. Not only are natural resources shared, but it is also healthier for many people to interact more closely on a daily basis.

    Heh … but what good is that when all of the people that you have “to interact [with] more closely on a daily basis” are a bunch of weirdos. That doesn’t sound very healthy to me.

    And thus, we see why the modern reincarnations of the hippie commune still fail to take off. Even the hippies had to be stoned all the time to stand each other’s company.

    1. I was recently asked to be on a panel with a wind farm developer and a leader in “transition town” development. They wanted me for balance.

      Unfortunately, the panel will be held on a day in November when I will be out of town. I was recommended by the Ethan Allen Institute, so they assumed I had the right credentials. I have suggested Howard as a panel member instead of me. They emailed Howard, he answered, and they are thinking about Howard. They are not sure he’s the person they want.

      You see, they want someone who will argue against peak oil, and Howard and I think there is such a thing as peak oil–which is another argument for nuclear! It may be that the panel organizer cannot deal with this type of nuance. The idea that peak oil and nuclear actually go together is a very foreign concept in this neck of the woods.

  8. Behind the litany of all the things that are supposed to be “unsustainable” is a fundamental logic error:
    It’s true that “extracting oil out of Saudi Arabian oil fields, refining it and burning it in our cars” is unsustainable, but “finding some way to power some kind of car” is very sustainable.
    A specific energy source in a specific location might be unsustainable, but humanity’s quest for energy is as infinitely sustainable. Even if we ran out of all uranium and thorium on earth, outer space has infinitely more. There is no limit to growth, the only “limit” is in the imagination of the UN, Sierra Club and other “peak oil” promoters.

    1. Couldn’t fission fuels still be considered a kind of fossil fuel though (albeit fossilized supernovae rather than fossilized biological organisms)?

      1. That’s probably why nuclear is not part of the “renewable club”, because we can’t renew the supernova. But of course the sun’s energy isn’t renewable either. My point is that green people never seem to look to space for answers, they deliberately confine their imagination to the earth, which limits our resources more than necessary. What if uranium and thorium were found on the moon or mars?

  9. If carbon combustion is the primary culprit of “global climate disruption”, and natural gas-fired power plants produce half as much carbon dioxide while there are virtually no diesel or gasoline-fired power plants, then shouldn’t the focus be on replacing coal-fired plants with nuclear ones?

    Transportation fuels based on carbon fuel have no known ready substitute, so nuclear plays no direct role there – other than in coal-to-liquid for even more transportation fuels.

    I find this whole neo-Malthusian doomsday fear- mongering absolutely beneath us when we have the technology to provide abundant energy resources for all our needs far into the future. And the statistics by Robert Hargreaves show that as per capita income increase, population stabilizes and the environment becomes cleaner. That’s a win-win.

    1. Mass transportation based on electricity can be carbon free. Eventually, planes could also be powered with nuclear engines.

      Having cars still run on gasoline in the foreseeable future is something that we can live with if we take care of the bigger picture with base load electricity.

  10. Well, after the oil civilizations fall you could always put the horse manure in plastic bags to keep it off the streets and dispose of properly. Many people forget that plastic is washable and reusable.

    But, bicycles are quite a bit cheaper than horses for those who have to carry little more than the clothes on their back as they go back and forth to work.

    There are many technologies and lifestyles out there that we have to fall back on after oil (if we have to fall) that are way above subsistence farming.

    Some, people just lack imagination.

    1. @Jason Kobos – it is not just about personal mobility. Do you know how the food you eat gets grown, processed and transported to the convenient nearby grocery store?

  11. Rod, I will counter you with another question.

    Do you know how far the food you eat gets grown, how far away it gets processed and how far away the grocery store is?

    How expensive gasoline is is just as important as how much you have to use. A cheap price means you can go a long way for a certain costs. You can equal said cost by using a more expensive fuel over a shorter distance.

    Oil has been so cheap that many companies choose to ship goods 1/2 around the globe. Does a tee-shirt really “have” to be made in China for it to be affordable? No.

    There is a great deal of demand in the transportation sector that exists solely because oil is cheap. I am no expert on this subject and don’t know all the price points to cause an economic shift to shed this wasted demand. But, i know that there was a time in history when most of the goods used by Americans were made in America. It just so happens that at that time in history the U.S. had the strongest economy in the world.

    As I see it, the U.S. will only have to go to war over oil, if it would rather buy good made in China vs. made in the U.S.A. Right now, people would rather buy goods made in China, rather than in the U.S. Will this trend change? Who knows.

    1. @Jason Kobos – Would it surprise you to learn that I am a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) or that I have been participating in “locally grown” activities for several years?

      I am well aware of the petroleum content in the food we eat. When it is available, we prefer to buy locally. However, as a member of the CSA, I am also well aware of the seasonality of the food and the fact that we only have about 33 weeks worth of any kind of fresh products here in south central VA. At both the beginning and end of that period, there are few items that are available. I am not willing to take fresh fruit and vegetables out of my diet for 20 weeks per year.

      Of course, we could go back to the ways of my father and mother’s parents, who spent a large portion of their time in the late summer and early fall canning and preserving food so they would have a chance of making it through the winter without going hungry, but both of those groups of people in my family happened to live on farms where the marginal cost of the food they canned was very low and the pace of other activities fit well with the activity of canning and preserving.

      Seasonality can be overcome by moving goods from south to north or north to south as appropriate. Many of the fruits that come from the south come in the holds of planes that are traveling that route anyway.

      I am also well aware of the difference in petroleum content between goods that are transported on a ship – a mode that makes the energy efficiency of rail transport pale in comparison – and those that are shipped by air and refrigerated trucks.

      If you have spent much time here on Atomic Insights, you will know that you have a very sympathetic ear when you mention making things in America and building a strong economy here. I once ran a small manufacturing company that competed head to head (and won on occasion) against Chinese manufacturers.

      One of the industrial areas where we have a real opportunity for success is in nuclear technology if we can get people to realize its safety and its massive potential for displacing fossil fuel consumption. Even though we have not built any large commercial power plants for 35 years, we still have 60% more plants in operation than the number two country AND we have steadily been building smaller plants for naval vessels for 50 years. We also have been operating enough nuclear plants at sea that we send about 2,000 sailors per year through nuclear power school in order to replace the sailors who leave the service ready to assume greater responsibilities in the civilian world.

      None of those leaving the Navy are ready to stop working – even guys like me, who served nearly as long as the Navy would allow, still have a decade or two left before we are really ready to retire.

      Despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that I am a retired military man, I have NO love of war and NO desire to see America fighting over oil. It pains me and keeps me up at night thinking about all of the lives that we have wasted and negatively impacted by the actions taken in the past 40 years to protect our “interests” in the Middle East, the “stans”, and North Africa.

      1. Rod – Are you familiar with “Lynchburg Grows”?

        If not, you should check them out, since they’re right in your backyard.

        1. I am not, but I am familiar with Horse and Buggy Produce. My wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed their service this summer. They have supplied some of the most interesting and tasty fruits and vegetables I have had in a long time.

  12. Sent to you in an e-mail:


    So… there was a comment by Cal Abel on Atomic Insights today [up there a few pages]. Neat. I saw him give a talk to a packed, fairly large room (though a breakout) at the ANS party in San Diego in July 2010. He gives a great presentation. If I recall correctly, after the talk, waiting to tell him so, he told another fellow that he wants to be the “Rickover” of the SMR paradigm. Ahem. Seems like you and he would have a lot in common.

    Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a big internet presence. I bet he’d be a good interview for Atomic Show. Among other things, you could talk about Tuber stuff.

    He gave me a simple card with his name, e-mail and the big three phone numbers. As of that time, his e-mail address was [given to you in the e-mail].



    1. Reese,

      Based on his comments for this particular article, I think I would be interested in hearing more of what Cal has to say.

      1. Your interest is sated at TPN’s Atomic Show. Hopefully in the future, too, with more banter.

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